Dangerous invisible particles and pollutants may lurk in the indoor air we breathe. A new dust sensor from Israel identifies the culprits and improves our air quality.
Polluted air breathed in for weeks, months and sometimes years, can have fatal consequences, leading to asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer.
Now an Israeli professor has developed a new sensor called the Dust Alert, which will allow families and authorities to monitor the quality of the air they breathe and track down the pollutants.
The device measures the concentration of small particles that can be found contaminating the air in your home. Like a tiny chemistry lab, it can also determine the chemical composition of these toxins, so homeowners, office managers and factories can improve their air quality, and ease the lives of people who may be prone to suffer from respiratory distress.
“Until now, people have had to grin and bear the polluted air they breathe,” says Prof. Eyal Ben-Dor, who developed the sensor with his Ph.D. student Dr. Sandra Chudnovsky at Tel Aviv University.
“The Dust Alert could provide crucial reliable evidence of pollution, so that society at large can breathe easier. We can see the dust on the furniture and on the windows, but most of us can’t see the dust we breathe. For the first time, we are able to detect it and measure its more dangerous components.”
Exposing pollution, pollen and construction waste
If you’re worried that dust from a nearby construction zone could harm your family’s health, Dust Alert could either confirm your suspicions or better yet, set your mind at rest.
Scientific studies on Dust Alert appeared recently in the international journal Science of the Total Environment and on science news websites.
“It works just like an ozone meter would,” explains Ben-Dor, from the university’s Department of Geography. “You put it in your home or office for three weeks, and it can give you real-time contamination levels in terms of dust, pollen and toxins.”
Using the measurements, Ben-Dor can sometimes find a quick remedy for a dusty or pollen-filled home. The solution could be as easy as keeping a window open, he says. “We’ve found through our ongoing research that some simple actions at home can have a profound effect on the quality of air we breathe.”
Based on a portable chemical analyzer called a spectrophotometer, the invention can be installed and begin to collect data within minutes, although several weeks’ worth of samples produces the best assessment of air quality. The longer period allows for fluctuations in both internal and external environments, such as changing weather patterns.
With findings from the new invention, urban planners can provide better solutions and mitigate risks. “We can certainly give an accurate forecast about the health of a home or apartment for prospective home owners. If somebody in your family has an allergy, poor air quality can be a deal breaker,” says the professor.
The device may be most useful in the aftermath of disasters, such as chemical fires, heavy dust storms, hurricanes or tragedies like 9/11. Survivors of these situations are usually unaware of the lingering environmental problems, and the government can’t do enough to protect them because no accurate tools exist to define the risk.
Using a Dust Alert, residents could be advised to vacate their homes and offices until the dust has cleared, or to take simple precautions such as aerating hazardous rooms, Ben-Dor suggests.
Putting dust on the map
According to Ben-Dor, the Dust Alert could also be used by cities and counties to develop “dust maps” that provide detailed environmental information about streets and neighborhoods, permitting government authorities like the Environmental Protection Agency to more successfully identify and prosecute offenders.
Currently, for example, there is no system for demonstrating how construction sites compromise people’s health.
With their dust maps, scientists at Tel Aviv University have already correlated urban heat islands with high levels of particulate matter, giving urban planners crucial information for the development of green spaces and city parks.
Ben-Dor also plans to develop his prototype into a home-and-office unit, while offering customized services that can help people decode what’s left in the dust.